The Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) framework is vital for agile organisations in today’s world. It provides teams with a clear understanding of company goals and the autonomy to effectively achieve these targets. OKRs are key to fostering servant leadership, ensuring strategic alignment, and setting precise goals, particularly within agile methodologies like Scrum

Creating a clear route to realise an organisation’s vision

OKRs connect strategic business objectives with everyday activities. I have seen teams instantly become far more engaged and empowered to drive improvements alongside their core activities. As the OKR framework is fully transparent, both the team and senior leadership can see the dial shifting or where leadership can step in and help remove impediments to progress.

This is essential in environments where flexibility and swift adaptation are necessary. By setting specific objectives and measurable results, organisations can handle complex projects and improve value delivery more efficiently.

From my experience, a clear line of sight not only needs coherent organisational goals but also a structure that promotes visibility at all levels. The challenge grows when teams use diverse tools and datasets. I’ve explored various tooling solutions; a key takeaway is that achieving clarity requires a level of investment to truly leverage the potential of OKRs in complex, large organisations.

OKRs and servant leadership

OKRs’ inherent transparency and focus on tangible outcomes cultivate a culture where trust and empowerment are crucial, thus promoting servant leadership. This leadership style, which focuses on meeting team members’ needs to enhance their efficiency and development, naturally aligns with the collaborative goal achievement that OKRs encourage.

Effective OKR implementation allows teams to design their Key Results, fostering ownership of their contributions. During a major transformation programme involving technology delivery teams, this approach was highly successful. Allowing varied groups like Finance, HR, software development, and IT infrastructure teams to create their Key Results fosters necessary buy-in for successful shifts in working practices.  Each team had their own Key Results fully aligned with organisational goals.

Through effective collaboration, each team could prioritise their work to fall in line with one another.  As an example, IT Infrastructure ensuring certain services were up and running, enabling the software development team to leverage Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery pipelines to drive quicker releases to customers. At the same time, Finance and HR were working alongside each other to ensure new budgeting approaches were taking human resource requirements into account.

With multiple teams fully aligned and moving their own ‘dial’ the results were also fully transparent – there were no ‘watermelon’ project updates! Leadership naturally started serving the teams, supporting the improvements, removing impediments and fostering mutual influence amongst team members.

OKRs and scrum

Integrating OKRs with Scrum offers a structured way to set goals at both product and sprint levels. Scrum teams use OKRs to define clear Product Goals and Sprint Goals, helping prioritise tasks, manage backlogs, and ensure significant contributions to overarching product objectives.

In my view, OKRs provide a framework for Scrum Teams to collaborate on Product Goals and set Sprint Goals that align with overall Product Goals. This clarity helps reduce management interference, known to hinder productivity through over-reporting and micromanagement.

Bridging traditional governance and agile teams

OKRs play a crucial role in bridging the gap between leadership and agile teams. They provide a common language and framework that aligns traditional governance mechanisms with agile operational goals. By using OKRs, leaders can set strategic directions that are then translated into actionable, agile-friendly goals, enhancing collaboration and understanding across different levels of the organisation.

This is a key step change, having witnessed leadership and teams drift apart and become misaligned over time, which almost always results in wasted effort and missed opportunities. The effect of shared accountability mitigates this issue and enables a mutual commitment to turning strategic direction into actionable goals.

Strategic alignment and adaptability

OKRs enhance strategic alignment from the ground up, vital in competitive markets where agility can make the difference between success and obsolescence. They also support a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. By setting ambitious goals and encouraging teams to experiment and learn from outcomes, organisations foster a mindset of innovation and resilience.

Business dynamics can change swiftly and so having a structure that accommodates adaptation is crucial. I’ve seen businesses pivot quickly, with teams expected to adjust. Without OKRs’ transparency, adapting without excessive oversight is challenging, often leading to disruption and inefficiency.

Final thoughts

  • OKRs can bring about cohesion and require cross-team collaboration to avoid conflicting goals.

  • It’s just as important to use OKRs to define what not to do as to decide on actions.

  • Teams that excel in this are sharply focused on strategically impactful activities.

  • Reflecting on progress to adapt future OKRs, on a quarterly basis for example, is also crucial in facilitating cultural shifts.

The role of Objectives and Key Results in aligning teams with clear business objectives, promoting autonomy, and fostering a culture of servant leadership is indispensable for agile organisations. Integrating OKRs with practices like Scrum ensures strategic alignment, enhances collaboration, and supports continuous improvement and learning. I do believe that whilst organisations navigate today’s continuously changing business environment, adopting OKRs alongside agile methodologies is essential for success and quality outcomes

I’d love to hear about your experiences with OKRs and any challenges you’ve faced.

Feel free to comment on this post, reach out to us at smart/tasking or message me directly!

By Richard Cleaver | Client Partner

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